Whale “hunting” in Riviera Nayarit

  • This 2012, unusually large number humpback whales are visiting Mexico’s Pacific Treasure. They come here on their annual migration, but this year’s numbers are allowing for frequent sightings

Greg shaded his eyes from the sun with his hand while he traveled at an incredibly high speed on a speedboat. The crew had stated that this boat could reach a speed of about 50 nautical miles per hour, and it probably was, but there was a bird that was not only following us, but even passed us to then turn like Messi in the penalty area, before diving in the ocean to catch a big and juicy fish.
Initially, Greg though that it might be a gull, but its sharp and upright beak and its feathers with a pattern of white and gray fading to the neck, as well as the color of its feet indicated that it was something else: “It’s a Blue-Footed Bobbie”, explained the leader of the expedition.
Greg through about this peculiar name and smiled, and apparently someone else in the group was thinking the same thing, as someone said: “There’s always luck when you have a pair of boobies by your side”, and this is how I realized that not only Mexicans know how to make plays on words.
However, we were not driven here because of these bobbies, even though they are extremely rare, as they can only be found in the Galapagos Islands and in a narrow strip of the Mexican Pacific – precisely where were at the time. We were headed towards Las Marietas, a group of islets that have been chosen as nesting grounds by thousands of birds, including scores of blue and yellow-footed bobbies that lay right next to this exclusive area in Punta de Mita, in Riviera Nayarit.
We came to this place because we were “hunting” humpback whales. We first put the aim on them with our eyes – or with our telephoto, which is pretty much the same – and then the guide told us that in this area we could possibly find mothers with their cubs.
The scenery was beautiful and we knew that the chance of seeing a family of humpbacks was high. Throughout the trip we’d already seen about 15 adults, some over 16 meters in length. Most had jumped in the distance, and they’d surprised us by blowing up water through their characteristic blowhole, and by raising their beautiful and huge tails just before diving and disappearing again.
This year there are many whales in Bahía de Banderas – and we can certainly attest to that, as we’d already seen 15 and we still had some part of the tour left. They’re feeding on sardines, which is unusual; the previous months they’d been gorging on krill and herring (up to a half ton a day) off the coast of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, just in order to endure the journey to this region, where they spend the winter mating and breeding.
“In the 15 years that I’ve been working with humpback whales, I’d never seen whales feed here. Someone once reported seeing a whale feeding in the area, but it was purely coincidental. Normally whales pass schools of sardines without showing any interest, but this winter we’ve been surprised to see humpback whales feeding intensively and extensively on them”, declared Astrid Frisch, a specialist in this species to a local newspaper. I was wondering if that was the reason why our whale “hunting” was so successful.
Later on I found the answer when this biologist explained that in order to find food, whales work in large groups – of up to 30 – using drag and cornering techniques to catch fish banks. I also understood that the reason why we saw so many jumps and dives is because these are a form of courtship.
The boat turned to port in order to go around the “long” island, and proceeded to go between it and the “round” island – this is how locals identify the largest islands in Las Marietas. Suddenly, three whales broke the surface: a mother, its cub, and a male escort.
We were ecstatic! The cub, which apparently was over one month old, seemed to read our minds and was thrilled to see us too. It made a first and a second leap, then a third one while turning in the air, and then yet another one while diving backwards. The experience was so great it made us want to jump into the water with the cub, but it was time to go home.
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